Roster turnover imminent for Blue Jays as trade deadline approaches


Top Toronto Blue Jays prospect Bo Bichette. (Paul Chiasson/CP)

DETROIT — Saturday night, as whipping winds and heavy rain swirled around him, Trent Thornton stood on the mound at Comerica Park getting drenched. His start against the Detroit Tigers was being interrupted after only three innings by a flash storm, and as blue-shirted groundscrew members raced to unspool a tarp, and players darted for the dugouts, Thornton remained right where he was for a long beat, staring towards home plate.

“I was just finally starting to feel pretty good — you know, locating my pitches a lot better. And then, rain,” Thornton said later. “It’s just kind of frustrating to have an outing cut short because of weather, something out of your control. But it is what it is. That’s baseball. Stuff like that’s going to happen. You’ve just got to roll with that. And get ready for next time out.”

When, or where, Thornton’s next time out will be remains unclear. In fact, a lot is murky about the Blue Jays roster as the club enters a pivotal 10-day stretch ahead of the July 31 trade deadline. Plenty of turnover is coming. And it almost began Sunday in Detroit.

After Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo was forced to use five relievers Saturday to get through the remaining innings following the rain delay, and with Toronto’s bullpen over-taxed in general on the tenth and final day of a long, three-city road trip coming out of the all-star break, Thornton was nearly removed from the 25-man roster in order to clear room for Ryan Borucki to be activated and available to provide emergency inning cover in case things went awry Sunday.

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There was a slight chance of rain in the forecast, and a slight chance of Sunday’s starter, Jacob Waguespack, not getting particularly deep into his outing. Injuries happen. Pitchers get rocked. It’s best to be prepared for every possible scenario. So, the Blue Jays discussed both placing Thornton on the injured list or optioning him to the triple-A Buffalo Bisons to clear room for Borucki to be available in case of emergency.

The club ultimately opted against making the move. But Thornton may still hit the IL or be optioned on Monday, as Borucki — currently on the 60-day IL — is scheduled to pitch the opener of a three-game set with Cleveland at Rogers Centre and must be added to the 25-man roster. (A 40-man roster spot was already opened for Borucki when Nick Kingham was designated for assignment)

Thornton’s next turn in the Blue Jays rotation comes Thursday, when the club has an off day. He could spend 10 days on the injured list to overcome what’s bothering him with minimal disruption to Toronto’s rotation. Particularly with Waguespack demonstrating he deserves another turn Sunday, allowing three runs on nine hits while striking out seven in Toronto’s 4-3 loss to the Tigers.

“He kept us in the game,” Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo said.  “That’s all you can ask from a starter. He did a good job. It was good to see. He’s pitched good in the big leagues so far from what I’ve seen.”

Waguespack used a 93-94 m.p.h. fastball and an array of off-speed pitches to generate 14 swinging strikes against an anemic Tigers lineup. After walking three his last time out, the 25-year-old featured much better command, not issuing any free passes while throwing 67 per cent of his pitches for strikes.

“My sinker was moving a little bit. And we stuck with that and the cutter for the most part. We were going cutters in to lefties and sinkers in to those righties,” Waguespack said. “My four-seam up in the zone is one of my strengths and that’s something we go to. But I think just flipping in some more off-speeds later in the game and keeping those guys off balance — I thought Luke [Maile] did a great job calling the game today and keeping them off balance.”

So, for now, it appears Thornton will go and Waguespack will stay. But more roster shuffling will likely be necessitated soon as Marcus Stroman and Ken Giles could be traded at any point over the next week-and-a-half, forcing the Blue Jays to replace their staff ace and closer.

Sunday, The Athletic’s David O’Brien and Ken Rosenthal identified the Atlanta Braves as a potential landing spot for Giles, while essentially every team looking for starting pitching at the deadline has been linked to Stroman. And that’s not to mention the team’s set-up man, Daniel Hudson, shortstop, Freddy Galvis, and lead-off hitter, Eric Sogard, who could all potentially be moved, as well.

A trade of Galvis or Sogard would clear the way for top prospect Bo Bichette to finally join the major-league roster. The 21-year-old shortstop entered Sunday hitting .336/.399/.546 with 20 extra-base hits over 38 games since returning from a broken hand in early June and has done everything in his power to earn a promotion.

The Blue Jays discussed the possibility of bringing Bichette up sometime during the road trip the club just completed, but the move was never made. There remains a scenario where he could co-exist with the veterans currently blocking him positionally, in which Bichette would play shortstop everyday while Galvis shifts to a utility role. That would likely necessitate Vladimir Guerrero Jr. serving more often as a designated hitter and Sogard spending more time on the bench. But a trade of either Galvis or Sogard remains the easiest path to getting Bichette to the majors.

Then, there’s Dalton Pompey. All the way back in March, the 26-year-old outfielder suffered a concussion — the third of his career — when he hit his head on some bats hanging out of his locker at the Blue Jays spring training facility in Dunedin, Fla. After a long recovery period, Pompey finally returned to game action this month, beginning a rehab assignment with the Gulf Coast League Blue Jays on July 3.

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He’s since advanced through high-A Dunedin to Buffalo, where he’s played his last four games entering Sunday. And after shaking off the rust, Pompey’s bat is showing signs of coming around, as he’s put up five hits in his last three games.

But time’s running out. Monday will be the 20th and final day of Pompey’s rehab assignment, at which point the club will have to either promote him to the major-league roster or designate him for assignment and expose the out-of-options player to waivers.

If the Blue Jays opt for the former, Billy McKinney could be optioned to make room for Pompey on the 25-man roster. But if they choose the latter route, it’s hard to imagine another MLB club taking a flier on such an unknown commodity. Pompey’s made only 13 MLB plate appearances since 2016, and only 262 at any level of baseball over the last two seasons. Considering any club that claims him on waivers would have to add him to its 25-man roster, it’s feasible the Blue Jays could sneak Pompey through waivers.

And, frankly, it’s somewhat remarkable he’s made it this far with the Blue Jays at all, considering he was inherited from a prior management group, has played so seldomly, and was suspended last season following an altercation with Buffalo Bisons manager Bobby Meacham, which led to Pompey being the only member of the club’s 40-man roster not called up to the majors in September.

But the Blue Jays are nothing if not sticklers for depth, often going out of their way to preserve it, particularly in the case of young, toolsy players like Pompey. He’s still fast, he still has a quick bat, and he’s still a switch-hitter. The last thing Toronto’s front office wants is to lose Pompey for nothing and watch him flourish elsewhere.

So, as the Blue Jays enter the stretch run towards the July 31 trade deadline, uncertainty abounds. Starting pitchers will come and go. Possibly some position players, too. Bichette will be summoned to the majors before long. Pompey’s situation will be resolved, one way or the other. The bullpen will remain in flux, as ever. The only certainty is that turnover is coming. And the Blue Jays will look very different in 10 days than they do now.


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